Yesterday we went to Hannah’s school for the annual education week open day. Each student had to dress up in a costume from another country, then they had to stand up in front of everyone and say something about their country. Hannah wore a Chinese outfit that my sister had sent her (the blonde hair didn’t look terribly authentic). She also participated in a ‘cultural dance’, and then sang “walking on sunshine” with the whole school.
This might not seem like a big deal, but for Hannah it is. She finds people who she doesn’t know looking at her, incredibly stressful. She gets so stressed in new public situations, that she cannot talk. Often a stranger will talk to her to be friendly, and this makes it worse. She isn’t trying to to be rude, she just genuinely cannot make herself talk.
As her parent, I find this a struggle. Both Country Boy and I are introverted (CB more than me), so we understand where she is coming from, but at the same time we cannot protect her all her life. At some point she is going to have to talk to people she doesn’t know when we are not around. Although I know she is not trying to be rude, it is embarrassing when your child doesn’t respond to questions in public, and when she tries to hide behind you.
We are trying to give Hannah skills to cope with these situations. We encourage her to look at peoples forehead if she can’t meet their eyes, and to smile and wave a hand if she can’t actually speak. We try to talk about what we expect in terms of behaviour before we arrive, so that she is keyed up to know that she has to acknowledge people who talk to her. We try to remind her of people that she knows so that she will feel more relaxed.
We also try to avoid labelling her as ‘shy’. We say she finds meeting new people hard, or that she doesn’t like it when people look at her. I don’t want her to label herself as shy and give herself an excuse for not trying at all.
The funny thing is that amongst our family and close friends, Hannah is loud and talkative. Despite not liking people looking her, she is happy for me to take photos of her and put them on here.
Yesterday, I was so proud that she got up and spoke, and danced and sang, because she finds it so hard, and yet she did it anyway!